What the new Cuba travel restrictions mean for tourists

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The Treasury Department released several rules last week restricting travel to Cuba. The most dramatic changes are the elimination of cruise visits and people-to-people trips. But while the U.S. government has closed some windows, the door to Cuba remains open a crack.

"We are really committed to continuing trips to Cuba," said Peggy Goldman, founder and president of Friendly Planet Travel, which offers three itineraries to the Caribbean island. "This not the kiss of death for Cuba."

According to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which issued the restrictions, travelers who have made any transactions related to their trips to Cuba — such as booking flights, hotels or tours — before June 5 can proceed with their plans. However, the Commerce Department removed cruising from that grandfathered group. Effective June 5, the agency's Bureau of Industry and Security stated, "private and corporate aircraft, cruise ships, sailboats, fishing boats, and other similar aircraft and vessels generally will be prohibited from going to Cuba."

John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a nonprofit that helps foster connections between the two countries, summed it up as, "Cruises are dead in the water. They're over."

Added Goldman, "This ruling was intended to stop mass tourism, mainly by the cruises."

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At press time, the majority of cruise lines, which sailed nearly 143,000 Americans to Cuba in the first four months of the year, had not indicated how they would respond to the directive or assist passengers holding reservations. A spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association said, "We are still sorting this out."

Airlines, meanwhile, survived without a scratch.

"The regulations don't directly impact them," said Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, a travel company that leads tours of the island. "Cuban Americans sustain the number of departures, the size of the aircraft and the routes."

However, McAuliff said the law could affect routes carrying passengers that are equally divided between leisure travelers and Cuban Americans visiting family. He said JetBlue could reconsider its flight from New York's JFK airport to Havana. Alternately, United's Newark flight is probably safe, because of the sizable Cuban American population in New Jersey, as are the many flights departing from Florida.

Of course, these rules could be a temporary obstacle to freer travel to Cuba. McAuliff said Congress is expected to consider a bill that will end all travel restrictions, and it has garnered support from a bipartisan majority.

"The question is whether [President Donald] Trump will veto it," he said.


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